Service Pack 1 Released For Windows Vista

Where does the time go? It’s hard to believe that it has been over a year since the release of Windows Vista. As a sort of birthday present, Microsoft has completed Service Pack 1 for Vista. Unlike Service Pack 2 for Windows XP, you will not see much in the way of new functionality. The focus of SP1 is stability, compatibility and performance.

This means that your Vista computer may seem to have more pep after the upgrade. File transfers should complete faster, and problematic peripherals just may run smoother.

Reviews of SP1 are mixed. Some tests are showing speed improvements, while others don’t show much difference. One thing that reviewers [Read more…]


Adobe Photoshop Express Goes Live

Real Estate is very much a photo-dependant business. That’s why I’m excited to share the news about Adobe Systems launching their beta Adobe Photoshop Express. This new addition strengthens Adobe’s online offerings by adding a photo editing tool for the “average user”-not the professional designer. Adobe is also taking advantage of the growing popularity of social networks and communities with ability to connect and share photos from Facebook, Photobucket & Picasa.? They also built in public galleries for you to showcase these photos. Perfect for real estate agents looking to store listing photos online and present them in animated slideshows. Adobe will give users 2 gigs of photo storage;?and all albums will have a direct link and embed code supplied.

I must say that I was impressed with the features available in this beta. It’s nothing like Photoshop but it does have some useful features for real estate agents looking to quickly edit a photo on the fly. Users can apply sketch effects, remove red eye, touch-up, sharpen, and?re-color with a single click of the mouse. Don’t like what you just applied, revert back to the original. Users can also download their edited photos in [Read more…]


Free Flash Charts for Your Real Estate Blog or PowerPoint

I thought that might get your attention.? It’s true; FusionCharts Free is now available for you to download. This free version is an amazing entry level flash charting component for your real estate website, blog or PowerPoint. ?Easily create high impact, visually appealing graphs on Local Market Indicators, Average Sales Prices, Building Starts, Vacancy Rates, Mortgage Originations, Neighborhood Sales, and tons of other compelling data for your audience.

FusionCharts Free supports popular chart types including bar, column, line, pie and more. Also note that FusionCharts is a cross-browser and cross-platform solution that can be used with PHP, Python, Ruby on Rails, ASP, ASP.NET, JSP, ColdFusion, HTML and even PowerPoint Presentations. [Read more…]


Is eSignature Technology Right for Your Real Estate Business?

As a real estate agent you probably have some basic understanding of how digital signature technology can help your real estate business. Maybe you could reduce the risk involved in holding and storing documents, gain time efficiencies by signing documents on the spot or even overcome geographical restrictions. Yet from my experiences many agents are sitting on the sidelines, not ready to jump in. Maybe it?s the result of not understanding how accessible the technology has become. Or is it the issue of legality?

First let?s address the legality of an eSignature. In 2000, the U.S. Congress passed a federal law titled Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (ESIGN) to ?facilitate the use of electronic records and signatures in interstate and foreign commerce by ensuring the validity and legal effect of contracts entered into electronically?.

With the ESIGN Act stating clearly that ?a transaction may not be denied legal effect, validity, or enforceability solely because an electronic signature or electronic record was used in its formation.? It paved the way for companies to start creating today?s eSignature platforms. Today in real estate eSignatures can be accomplished with various technologies, such as VREO Real Estate Dashboard or DocuSign. However they both deal with the digital signature in different ways and both have distinct advantages.

VREO real estate dashboard is a software application installed to a tablet PC. VREO dashboard allows agents to sign contracts and documents with a stylus pen on the screen?without ever printing a piece of paper. Once you?ve collected the required signatures, simply send to the other party using your dashboards integrated email or fax options. This technology proves to be very convenient for the mobile real estate agent who wants to conduct business anywhere, anytime! Note: An Internet connection is not required to collect signatures.

DocuSign on the other hand is an online solution enabling real estate agents to capture digital signatures via the web. As a result geographical distance between you and the recipient(s) is not an issue. In 2004, DocuSign integrated with Zipforms (Winforms) to provide online signature processing. As a result of the integration, real estate agents can print contracts into a ?digital envelope? and then place ?Stick-eTabs? wherever a recipient?s signature or initial is needed. This digital envelope is then encrypted and saved to a secure location. Your recipients will receive their invitation by email, and they will need to authenticate and sign the contracts. In the authentication phase the recipient must provide basic identification and pick a signature. Then it?s time for the recipient to review and sign. When complete, each of the parties is notified of the updated contracts.

Where are you with eSignatures in real estate business?


How Neat Are Your Receipts?

You may not have been very organized when it came to your real estate business receipts last year, but there?s a handy technology tool that can change all that for you this year! Neat Receipts is a scanner/software combination that will organize all your receipts, expense reports and other business documents.

After sending your documents through the scanner, the software will automatically catalog the information making manageability a snap. You basically turn your piles of paper into organized digital files. That?s right, from piles to files.

I?ve witnessed the efficiency of this tool first hand. My stepmom takes Neat Receipts with her wherever she goes (like lipgloss), ready at a moment?s notice to scan those ?write-offs?! It?s quite amazing to see how effective and organized one person can be. She inspired me to try one on myself?and I haven?t looked back at my piles since!Neat Receipts 3.0 Features:

  • Smart sorting
  • Enhanced PDF functionality
  • Keyword search
  • 2007 tax categories
  • Scans quickly and easily
  • Image viewer

Neat Receipts Version 3.0 retails online for $229.00, or purchase in bulk to save. Click here for pricing. Sorry Mac users, you’ll have to wait until March/April 2008 to get your version.

To learn more, watch this demo.


Windows Vista for Real Estate Agents

Part II: The Windows Experience Index

What is the Windows Experience Index?

?My computer is a 5.5. Yours is a 4.8. My computer is way better than yours!?
This just might be the future of technology bragging on the elementary school playground.

The Windows Experience Index is a technology, native to Windows Vista machines, that assigns a numeric value to the performance of a computer. The higher the number, the faster that computer can perform common tasks.

Windows Vista runs 5 different tests to determine the performance of the processor, memory, graphics, gaming graphics and primary hard disk. At the conclusion of each test, a number (from 1 to 5.9) is assigned to that component.

The most important of those numbers is whichever is the lowest. That number becomes the Windows Experience Index Base Score. For example, my monster of a desktop ranks 5.9 for 4 components and 5.5 for the fifth. That makes the system?s base score a 5.5.

When you discuss a Windows Experience Index score, it is the base score that you concentrate on since it is the limiting factor for performance.

The Windows Vista Team Blog offers a comprehensive look at the Windows Experience Index.

How can a real estate agent use the Windows Experience Index for making technology purchases?

Besides bragging rights (notice how I shamelessly included my base score), what good is the Windows Experience Index to a real estate agent? The Windows Experience Index will simplify every real estate technology purchase you make.

New Computer Purchases:

Purchasing a new computer is a confusing task. How do you know what processor to buy? Is the upgraded video card necessary or a waste of money? The list of questions that will flood your mind when you are buying a new computer is virtually endless.

The Windows Experience Index allows you to ignore clock speeds, dedicated memory and all of that technical mumbo-jumbo. Just look at the Windows Experience Index scores to tell you how that system performs.

Microsoft claims that a computer with a base score of 3 or higher will be able to handle any standard business applications. I see this as a bare minimum.

The real estate industry has become so multimedia driven that a base score of 4.5 or better is advised. The future of real estate technology lies in video presentations and audio files (podcasting). These technologies need a higher base score.

The good news: the price difference between a 4.5 and a 3.0 computer can be only a couple of hundred dollars.

Upgrading a Computer:

As I mentioned in my last article, I don?t recommend upgrading a computer to Windows Vista, it should be purchased with it already on the system. You may be in a situation, though, where you purchased a Windows Vista that just isn?t meeting your performance needs.

The Windows Experience Index identifies what components are holding your system back. I worked on a system with a base score of 2.1. Every other index score was at least a 4.1. By replacing the video card with a more powerful model, that awful 2.1 base score was increased to a 4.1.

Purchasing Software:

Ever look at the minimum hardware requirements for a piece of software? Those requirements will usually list minimum processor speeds, video card processors, amounts of RAM, etc.

Software manufacturers are changing this practice by using the Windows Experience Index number instead. In the future, the software you buy will clearly state that any Vista machine with a base score of 4 will meet the minimum requirements.

A little known tip for increasing your Windows Experience Index number.

According to Microsoft, once your computer is assigned a Windows Experience Index number, that number won?t change unless you upgrade your hardware components. I have seen to be not true.

When Windows Vista was first released, most hardware manufacturers had a difficult time writing Vista-compatible drivers for their products. The delivery of my own system was delayed by a month due to a delay in the release of a sound card driver. Even after I got the machine, my video card drivers were considered a ?beta? version.

Over the course of the past year, hardware manufacturers have greatly improved the performance of their components on Vista through the release of updated drivers. This means that by updating the BIOS and drivers for your chipset, video card, sound card and other components on your system, you might see your computer?s base score increase (along with the performance of the machine). This is especially true of Vista machines bought in the first half of 2007.

To see if you can increase your Windows Experience Index base score, visit your computer manufacturer?s downloads page and install any updates that apply to your system. To assist you, here is a list of download page links for the most common computer manufacturers:

Dell Drivers and Downloads

Gateway Drivers and Downloads

HP / Compaq Drivers and Downloads

Toshiba Drivers and Downloads

Sony Drivers and Downloads

Acer Drivers and Downloads

Lenovo / IBM Drivers and Downloads

Fujitsu Drivers and Downloads


Windows Vista for Real Estate Agents

Part I: You?ll Be Migrating Sooner Or Later

In the last week, I had 2 separate conversations with real estate agents that concerned me. The first was with an agent who just ordered a beautiful Lenovo Thinkpad X61 Series Tablet, complete with Windows XP Tablet Edition installed.

The second conversation was with a real estate agent who had been using Windows Vista on his HP Pavilion laptop for the past several months. The agent asked me how difficult it would be to remove Vista and install Windows XP.

Why did both conversations concern me so much? It has to do with the idea of equipping new technology with an operating system that just celebrated its 7th birthday. In technology years (much like dogs years), that is ancient.

Windows XP versus Vista

While I am the first to admit that Windows Vista is not as amazing as it had originally been billed, it is a positive step forward in the evolution of operating systems.

Think back to 2001 for a minute. There was no such thing as spyware, worms or trojans. Few people had digital cameras and video cameras. A 10 gigabyte hard drive was a ton of storage space. Home networks with Wi-Fi and network-connected printers and hard drives were just starting to gain in popularity.

Windows XP was built for the technology needs of 2001. Simply put, Windows Vista can better handle the technologies and security threats of 2008. It is less prone to spyware infestation. Network and peripheral connections are simple to establish and maintain. Best of all, the hundreds of gigabytes of music, photos and videos that we have all collected are easy to manage.

Vista Endorsed By The National Association of Realtors

In light of the beating that Vista has taken over the past year, I must commend NAR for going against public opinion by endorsing the use of Windows Vista for real estate agents. With an ?it?s here to stay, so make the best of it? sort of attitude, NAR embraced Vista at the recent Realtor convention in Las Vegas by offering the presentation, ?What Can Windows Vista? Do For Your Business? (purchase the audio file of this course).

John N. Frank takes a more cautious approach to recommending Windows Vista for real estate agents in his Realtor Magazine article Walk, Don?t Run, to Vista. Although Frank has reservations about the operating system, his article makes a compelling argument for including Vista in your next computer purchase.

Software Compatibility

One of the biggest concerns with migrating to Vista has been software compatibility. While your old software may not work on Vista, all current programs are compatible. Even real estate specific programs, such as Zipforms (Winforms), have released Vista compatible versions or patches.

Before moving to Vista, take an inventory of the software and peripherals (printers, scanners, etc.) that you use. Go to the manufacturers? sites for each program and device to determine if they offer a Vista compatible patch or if you must purchase a newer version or model. This means that you must budget for software and peripheral expenses.

Vista Is For Your Next Computer, Not Your Current One

I could not close this post without touching on the subject of upgrading to Vista. As you can tell by this point, I am a fan of Vista. I have had a wonderful experience with the operating system since its release.

While I wholeheartedly recommend Vista for your next computer purchase, I don?t endorse upgrading your current computer to it. If your computer was built for Windows XP, stick with it. You will be very disappointed with Vista if you run it on a machine that doesn?t have enough power run it smoothly.

For those who have already made the jump to Windows Vista, Part II of this series will provide tips on improving your Vista experience.


16 Holiday Gifts for Real Estate Techies

NikNik, Chad and I put together a list of some useful pieces of technology for real estate agents everywhere. Thanks to NikNik, we even have a few accessories this year. Have fun shopping!

Reggie’s Picks

Lenovo Think Pad Tablet PC
In my opinion, convertible tablet PC?s are built for real estate agents. The tablet technology allows for real estate agents to sign contracts on screen and start the paperless revolution. This year I?m recommending the Lenovo Thinkpad X61. The Lenovo Thinkpad X61 offers Intel?s Core Duo processor, embedded EV-DO or HSDPA modem for integrated wireless broadband, long battery life and strong benchmark scores for performance. Just keep in mind to get the small 12.1 footprint, the Lenovo Thinkpad X61 does not include an integrated optical drive. [see specs]

Garmin Nuvi 660
The Garmin Nuvi 660 is the perfect portable GPS Technology with a sleek 4.3 inch display. This state-of-the-art navigation system provides 2D or 3D maps and turn-by-turn voice directions. It also offers a complete ?points of interest? database for local restaurants, gas, ATM?s and more. Also stop getting surprised by accidents and road conditions with an optional traffic package from XM NavTraffic? or MSN? Direct. Even use the Nuvi 600 to play MP3?s or display JPG?s of that next listing you?re visiting on buyers tour. (also checkout the Nuvi 770) [see specs]

Wireless Broadband: USB727 or U727 Modem
Two pieces of technology every mobile real estate agent should have is wireless broadband internet and a sleek flash drive. So why not combine them. The Verizon Wireless USB727 and Sprint U727 both do exactly that. Now get a 4BG of microSD? memory, combined with a next generation mobile broadband on the EV-DO Rev. A network. Also note, this little device comes with out-of-box support for Windows XP, Vista, Mac, and Linux.

MII Flashcam
Open houses and other real estate activities often mean you may be alone for periods of time. Your safety is of top importance! Carry the MII Flashlight, and video/audio recorder. The MII Flashcam comes with one gigabyte of RAM capable of storing 1 hour of quality audio and video. The MII also supports night vision technology, allowing you to convert evening into daytime on the 1.5? TFT-LCD color Display. The MII is water resistant and provides 3 ? hours of continuous operation. [Sold Here].

Photoshop Elements 6.0
Do you have the right software for organizing and editing your real estate photos? Photoshop Elements provides many powerful tools in an easy to use software package. Tag your photos with keywords, use touch-up tools to enhance your photos color and contrast. Easily resize, crop and more. Even find the best photos for the MLS and print marketing by using the side-by-side viewing feature. [see features]

NikNik’s Picks

Acme Made Laptop Cases
Acme?s laptop cases make real estate on the go?sleek, sassy, and practical! Acme Made laptop bags combine style, functionality, and affordability. Dimensions and suggestions are provided to ensure your laptop acquires the right fit. Check out ?The Clyde City? for him and ?The Trixy? or ?Slim Cargo? for her.

Blue Tooth Headset
I can?t leave home and be expected to multi-task to my greatest potential without my Bluetooth headset. Driving and other real estate tasks become ?hands-free? via wireless connection to your headset. I?m a fan of the Jabra Bluetooth Headsets, the BT2020 in particular. The BT2020 has the latest Bluetooth 2.0 technology. [see specs]

Microsoft Streets & Trips 2008
Load it onto your laptop, attach the small GPS locator and you’re good to go. Get to know a new market area, create informative brochures based on your neighborhood analysis, or create mashups of your sold properties?perfect for prelisting presentations. [take a tour]

Mobile Office
This item is so popular that it?s often sold out. Keeping your car clean when it?s used as your daily office is easier said than done. But with the Lewis N. Clark Travel Business Center, you can keep your notepads, pens, files, digital camera, flyers, snacks, etc. secure and organized. And when showing property, just fold, zip and place in your trunk.

iHome Portable Speaker for Nano
The Bose Sounddock provides great sound with minimal setup. My good friend (Sarah) even brings it on our business trips. But at $300, it?s an item you won?t want to lose or leave at an open house. Another great option for real estate agents is the iHome Portable Speaker for your Nano. At only $30, you can set the mood with quiet background tunes at your next broker?s tour/open house for a bargain!

Chad’s Picks

Dell XPS M1330
The technology driven real estate agent needs a laptop that includes the latest multimedia functionality while remaining portable. The Dell XPS M1330 is just that. Only 0.87? thick, the XPS M1330 is a 13.3? widescreen laptop that can be configured with a hi-def LED screen, a 320 GB hard drive for ample storage space or a 64GB solid state drive for performance and reliability, up to 4GB of RAM and a slot-load DVD burner. There is also a choice between AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon for mobile broadband. [see specs]

Dell XPS 420
Thought about incorporating video and audio files into your real estate marketing plan? You?ll need a computer with tons and storage and serious power to handle file editing and conversion. The Dell XPS 420 is ready to incorporate the 45nm next generation processors. A fully configured XPS 420 includes an integrated LCD to access songs, pictures, video and system settings without using the keyboard, Adobe Elements Studio, video and audio inputs on the front panel, a remarkable 2TB of storage, a Blu-Ray drive, an eSATA connector, 10 USB ports, and a deck-top device storage area with cable routing. [see specs]

HP Officejet Pro L7680 Color All-in-One
Upgrade the printing, copying and faxing capabilities of the real estate agent in your life this holiday with HP Officejet Pro L7680 Color All-in-One. This device is fast, touting laser printer speeds from an inkjet printer. The built-in Ethernet connection allows for easy sharing of this all-in-one with multiple computers. The unusual feature of standard duplex printing makes double sided printing a breeze. [see specs]

Lexar ExpressCardTM SSD
The more multimedia based real estate technology becomes, the more storage space we need. To increase the storage capacity of your laptop computer without messing with a hard drive upgrade, look to a solid state express card drive. The Lexar Expresscard SSD can quickly add up to 16GB of extra storage to your laptop. Just slide the card into the express card slot on your machine and it is ready to use. [see specs]

Seagate FreeAgent Pro
Need to back up your real estate business? The Seagate FreeAgent Pro 750GB drive is a cutting-edge backup and storage device. The forward thinking design of the FreeAgent includes the latest and fastest external connection, eSATA, for blazing transfer speeds. For those without eSATA, a USB 2.0 and 2 Firewire ports are also available. The included software makes for simple system backups, ?goof-up? safe version storage and automatic data duplication and transfers to email, an iPod or Shutterfly. [see specs]

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3
A good wide-angle lens will improve real estate listing photos by including more of a room in a single shot. Without investing in a digital SLR, choices for cameras with strong wide-angle functionality are limited. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 includes a 28mm equivalent wide-angle lens that extends to a 10X optical zoom. Optical image stabilizer aids a shaky hand, a high sensitivity mode makes shooting fast moving objects easier and the new SDHC memory cards are compatible, providing 8GB of storage on a single card. [see specs]